How Cloud Computing Impacts Precision Agriculture Technology
Ruohan Liu, Director, Digital Solutions for Sustainability, Agriculture, and Ventures at PepsiCo
The concept of precision agriculture has been in place since the late 1980s, intending to implement dynamic farm management practices based on in-field observations and real-time measures of the climate, field, and crop conditions. Consequently, precision agriculture allows farmers to effectively use land, water, fuel, fertilizer, and pesticides. The benefits and needs of precision agriculture are apparent. It allows farmers to manage their fields more precisely, expecting reduction of resource input. Moreover, precision agriculture has significant environmental implications, especially considering soil and water sustainability.
In its early evolution phase, precision agriculture technologies primarily focus on improving nutritional inputs, cooperating with weather and climate conditions, and identifying early signs of crop health issues. Technologies focused on more granularity than the field level, such as plot level. Over the past decades, the application of precision agriculture has continued to grow, enabled by the advent of technology, especially GPS technologies. During the first wave of development, precision agriculture technology was mainly supported by localized computing powers and applied calculated mythologies to the existing solutions. In most cases, research was conducted at research agencies and focused enterprises due to the relatively high development costs.
The situation has changed with the development of cloud computing that started six to seven years ago. The adoption of cloud computing significantly encouraged the technology development in the agriculture sector, which benefited mainly from the low cost and flexibility of scaling up and down. The industry has started to observe a blooming of technologies on the market offered to farmers and other players in the agriculture and food value chain.
With the assistance of technology, farmers still need to make holistic decisions by analyzing the information received from multiple technology providers
How does cloud computing change the landscape of precision agriculture technology? In short, cloud computing allows technologists to quickly aggregate and compute data from various sources, such as satellite images and weather and climate stations. Cloud computing also accelerates the development of IoT technologies, including agricultural used IoT, such as soil sensors and crop monitoring tools. These IoTs collect and feed the data into the computing process, generating more accurate output, allowing more technology to be developed. In other words, cloud computing is creating a vicious circle for technology development in precision agriculture.
As a result, today's precision agriculture solutions provide much precise solutions at crop and field levels, such as precision planting based on crop types and varieties, site-specific chemical treatments, and prescribed nutritional and water input. These technologies aim to help farmers make better decisions about managing their crops and help provide more transparency for the agriculture and food production system.
Although we are excited to see cloud computing making technology more reachable to farmers, we are still at the early stage for technology to significantly change this accent sector, especially compared to other sectors such as manufacturing. Then why has precision agriculture been slow to take off? One of the primary reasons is due the nature of agricultural production. For example, precision agriculture technology does not guarantee financial benefits to farmers, as agriculture heavily depends on the weather and climate. Therefore, how we help farmers realize the value is critical for technology adoption. Another limitation is the technology offers. Most technologies support a few perspectives of agriculture production, such as irrigation optimization or nutrient management. With the assistance of technology, farmers still need to make holistic decisions by analyzing the information received from multiple technology providers. Therefore, to widely adopt precision agriculture technologies, providers need to continue finding paths to fulfill the needs and add value to customers.
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